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Protesters Picket Against Tutu As Dinkins is Sworn in As Mayor

January 3, 1990
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David Dinkins was sworn in as this city’s first black mayor on New Year’s Day, in a festive ceremony that was largely unmarred by threatened protests.

It was a joyous day for New York’s black community, but a day of misgivings for many of the city’s 1.1 million Jews, as they bid farewell to outgoing Mayor Edward Koch, a staunch defender of Israel and Jewish rights.

Dinkins has his own lengthy record of activity on behalf of Israel and Soviet Jewry. His relationship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, however, has stirred fears among many Jewish activists.

The new mayor made a clear attempt to lay such fears to rest in his inaugural speech, carefully listing Israeli security as one of three symbolic moral issues he would uphold as mayor.

He said his administration would defend “a woman’s right to choose, we will stand for justice around the world, including Israel’s right to live in peace and security, and we will fight for a free South Africa.”

The remark “was a gesture,” said Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.


By linking Israel with such liberal touchstones, Miller said, “it’s very clear he’s trying to reach out to the Jewish community.”

It was Dinkins’ inaugural guest list, however, that raised the most controversy.

Many Jews were angered at the scheduled appearance of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, whose recent remarks in Israel were widely interpreted as anti-Semitic.

Tutu had compared Israeli troop actions to South African repression, and had called on Jews to “forgive” the Nazis.

The scheduled protest took place as planned, but was low-key and respectful, in response to personal appeals from Dinkins.

A small group of 50 to 75 Jewish activists held up signs across the street from the ceremonies that declared: “Tutu is raining anti-Semitic hate on your parade.”

The organizer, Rabbi Avraham Weiss of the Bronx, said he was “for harmony between the black and Jewish communities, but I’ve always thought that dialogue is based on truth.”

In any case, the protest had little impact on the day’s festivities. “I don’t think it in any substantial way marred our celebration,” Dinkins said. Asked if he had any regrets about his controversial guest list, Dinkins said, “Heck, no.”

Many Jews in the audience expressed misgivings over the presence of Tutu and of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend of Dinkins.

Jackson, in fact, added a sour note during a private midnight swearing-in ceremony, where he was quoted as complaining that “the birthplace of Jesus the Christ is under occupation.”

Most Jewish observers said their faith in Dinkins overrode their suspicion of his friends.

“Desmond Tutu is here today. Jesse Jackson is here today. David Dinkins will be here tomorrow, and we will work together tomorrow,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

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